I was driving around in an older part of Tulsa a few days ago and happened upon a small tree that I have not seen in many years. When I was a boy I often hunted for rabbits with a .22 rifle and would see them growing along fence rows. We liked to throw the fruit like softballs to see them make a satisfying splatter against a tree or rock. The large knobby yellow-green fruit are very distinctive. It has a pleasant citrus smell sort of like an orange.
This is the plant with many names; Osage orange, Horse apple, Bois d'arc, Bodark, Monkey balls, etc., none resembling the proper botanical name of Maclura pomifera. The tree grows quickly into a dense thorny shrub. It was planted to create a hedge to contain livestock hefore the invention of barbed wire. Out on the treeless prairie it was planted in long rows to form a windbreak which discouraged erosion.
The wood is very hard and strong. It is hard enough to make a chain saw throw sparks. When cut for fire wood however, it burns for a long time and makes a very hot fire. The Osage prized it for making an excellent archery bow, hence the French name Bois d'arc, and the English corruption Bodark. It also is a very desirable wood for fence posts because it does not rot. In fact, if it is made into fence posts and set in the ground before the wood dries it is very liable to take root and sprout into a living hedge. I was told once that if it is planted upside down it will not sprout. I have no personal experience with that.
The fruit is made up of many individual drupes with a seed near the center. Squirrels like the seeds and will tear the fruit apart to get at the seeds. Livestock, particularly horses, will sometimes eat them but have been known to choke on the woody mass. Birds to not seem to feel they are worth the trouble and most just lie in mounds to dry up over the winter. While the seeds are edible like a sunflower seed, very few people would think it worth the trouble to extract and clean them for eating. The fruit itself is not poisonous but if eaten will cause vomiting. The pleasant odor is said to repel insects and they were once left in bowls at various places in the house as a combination deodorizer and bug repellent.
I was surprised to see the young tree in a residential setting. I expect that someone planted it as a curiosity. They are interesting but do make a mess. Seeing it reminded me of cool crisp afternoons of tramping through fields looking for Mr. Rabbit and listening to dry brush crunch under my feet accompanied by the chatter of crows and larks. It was like seeing an old friend.